A public advocacy group last week petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to force manufacturers to limit how much acrylamide is in food. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)said that acrylamide in foods may be causing as many as several thousand cancers a year in the U.S.
Acrylamide first came to public notice last April, when a group of Swedish researchers contended that the substance formed when foods were fried, baked or roasted at high temperatures, and was likely responsible for causing thousands of cancers.
Washington D.C.-based CSPI is urging the FDA to require manufacturers to meet temporary acceptable levels of acrylamide in food, at least until more is known about the substance. They noted that German authorities are already urging companies to stop marketing foods with high acrylamide content.
Since last April, scientists have learned how acrylamide is formed. It was already known that high levels of exposure can cause neurological problems and cancer in animals. But researchers still do not know what constitutes a safe or acceptable level of acrylamide in people.
The CSPI is urging Americans to eat less of the "non-nutritious" foods that have been found to have high acrylamide levels, such as potato chips, French fries, baked goods, pastries and coffee.
Consumers should not be as worried about nutritious foods, such as cereals and whole grain breads, which have also been found to have acrylamide. These foods have far less of the substance and make up a much smaller proportion of the average American's diet. According to FDA data cited by CSPI, Pringles BBQ Sweet Mesquite Flavored Potato Crisps, for instance, contain 2,510 parts per billion of acrylamide, compared to 102 parts per billion for Arnold Baker Light 100 percent whole wheat bread.
Food manufacturers have been conducting their own tests to see how much acrylamide is in food and how to reduce or eliminate them. Manufacturers can reduce levels of the substance by changing the variety of potato or other food used, preparing ingredients differently before cooking, or cooking at a lower temperature for a shorter time.
A study conducted by the scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden - the first to look at acrylamide in terms of human diet and cancer risk -- suggested it may not be as dangerous as people have been led to believe.
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